Course introduction

Welcome to ‘Earth Observation From Space: The Optical View’. In this course, we will introduce you to the wide range of applications of satellite Earth observation technology. We will focus in particular on the use of data acquired by satellite sensors which use visible light and near infrared radiation – otherwise known as ‘optical’ Earth observation.

Modern optical sensors can capture both qualitative imagery and quantitative information, by using a range of different wavebands of light. That means the imagery is often in a familiar ‘photographic’ form, showing the Earth from the unique and powerful perspective of space. But it can also contain additional information which helps scientists, researchers and decision-makers to understand more about the natural and man-made processes occurring on Earth.

Optical Earth Observation (EO) is particularly important for observing the ‘living planet’, as the wavebands of light it uses are also those used in photosynthesis. As the resolution of new satellite sensors increases, we can also use this technology for monitoring our own impact on the Earth and the movements of people around the planet.

This course is suitable for anyone interested in this subject, whether coming to it for the first time, or with some prior knowledge. However, it is also intended to be an informal follow-up to the ESA Monitoring Climate from Space course which has run previously on FutureLearn, and so will not overlap too much with the topics in that course. While the previous course looked specifically at climate monitoring and some of the fundamental physics and instrument technologies of Earth observation, this course will focus in-depth on optical EO data and its applications in a wide range of areas.


This course has been designed and produced for ESA by Imperative Space. The producers would like to thank all of the academics, experts and institutions who have contributed to and supported production of the course. This includes the universities and research centres to which our onscreen experts are affiliated, along with UCL, King’s College London, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Kew Gardens, WWF Living Planet Centre, Goonhilly Earth Station, Satellite Applications Catapult, Planet Labs and National Centre for Earth Observation, for the use of filming locations and their additional assistance.

All ESA and NASA imagery and animations used throughout this course are used courtesy of ESA and NASA.

Throughout the course you can download the videos and transcripts as well as complete quizzes, using the links on the right.